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Hidden London – Hidden Gems to See

London is known for its many attractions: Big Ben, Buckingham Palace, Piccadilly Circus, and museums to name a few. Wouldn’t you like to know about some hidden gems that will not only capture your attention and pocketbook but give you a sense you have had a private tour? Well, you’ve come to the right place to avoid the mistakes travelers make and find the hidden gems.

[02:02] Saint Dunstan in the East

[04:03] Temple Church

[06:05] Banqueting Hall

[07:48] Top of St. Paul’s Cathedral

[08:59] Apsley House

[09:10] The National Gallery

[09:57] The National Portrait Gallery

[10:27] Queen’s House & Tulip Staircase

[12:44] Little Venice

[13:50] Luggage Room

[15:13] Bishop Gate, Camden Town, Southwark, Borough Market

[17:26] Sky Pod Bar

[18:02] Hidden Gems for the Kids

[19:42] All Hallows Church – Southard Cathedral

Dream. Learn. Plan. Prepare. Go to Guidester/Virtual-Vacation

Season 1: Episode 9

#travel #Europe #vacation #traveleurope #boroughmarket #skypodbar #luggageroom #littlevenice #tulipstaircase #templechurch #banquetinghall #buckinghampalace #hiddengems #southwark #southardcathedral #apsleyhouse #piccadillycircus

Transcript
Arnold:

In this episode, we'll discover where in London is ground zero for the Knights Templar? Who was the famous King whose residence was the Banqueting Hall? Where should you go to get the best 360 degree view of London? Are there free attractions in London? And what is the location of an old speakeasy style bar? Here's a hint, it's hiding in the luggage. Travel to Europe is off limits for the time being, but we can still keep the flame of wanderlust alive through the Virtual Vacation with Guidester, the weekly podcast, where host Jack Baumann, founder of Guidester and travel enthusiast Arnold Stricker, dive into new destinations, exploring their unique history, culture and special vibe. You will also get insider tips about these destinations you won't get from other sources. Now let's join our host, the Guidester himself, Jack Baumann. Jack. When I was traveling last year, we stumbled upon a museum that wasn't even on our radar and we walked by it and we're like what is this? It was very surprising because there was nothing in any of the manuals. You have a real good inclination to find these hidden gems in cities and countries. That's what we want to talk about today is the Hidden London. Where do you find these things about Hidden London?

Jack:

I love Europe. Every city has something hidden about it. Europe is built on layers and layers of culture and history over thousands of years and London is no exception. London was founded by the Romans; Londinium in the first century A.D. so there's a lot to see that's been packed. So the short answer is you just gotta do your research or you have to be lucky enough to go back to London several times. You got to see the major stuff ;you've got to see Buckingham and Tower of London and Hyde Park, St Paul's, Westminster just goes on and on. Once you get that out of the way, then you have time to explore. That's why I do what I do. These personal travel guides cut through all that noise. So, if you're in London four or five days, you don't have to do all this extra research. If you've got a day or two that you've, have allotted to go explore some of these local areas, you can do that. Just being able to know where it is and how to get there. One of the cool things about London is these hidden gems are often right in the middle of the tourist areas. You turn a block, you go through a little street alleyway, and then there you go. Saint Dunstan in the East is one of these examples. It's in between Monument and Tower Hill right in the middle of London, hidden in plain view. It's an old Gothic church, I believe built by Sir Christopher Wren, who built all these slew of churches in the 1600 after the great fire of London. So we should get into that, the great fire of London and how it changed the landscape of London. Anyway, it's like a secret garden in the middle of touristy London, and it's this garden built into this old Gothic Cathedral and it's right in the middle of central London and you'd never know it was there. In fact, I was just reading an article about it recently, and this woman, this Londoner had lived in London for years and she never even knew it was there. So London, especially full of this kind of stuff.

Arnold:

A Londoner didn't know that was in the middle of London?

Jack:

I don't know if she was born and raised in London, but she's lived there for a decade. Camden Passage is another one of these things, not Camden Town, which is in the North, which is really cool, hipster area; but Camden Passage it reminds me of Harry Potter. You could walk right past it and it's an alleyway. It's basically a shopping street and there's an alleyway that leads to the shopping street. So Portabello Road is another big road, huge shopping street, a lot of tourists get there, but this is like a small little road off another little road that you would never know it was there. London is full of that kind of good stuff. There's just so many good, hidden spots in London we'll have to get through to the course of this podcast.

Arnold:

So are these things all historical in nature or they vary? Are they musically related, are they art-related, architecturally related, or related to the Royals?

Jack:

Good question. Saint Dunstan in the East is both historical because it was a cathedral or a church and I would say it's cultural and natural because it's a garden now. So in my personal experience, a lot of the cool, hidden gems that you'll go see are going to be historical in one way or another, like Saint Dunstan in the East. There's a lot of hidden gems; if you're out looking for just local bars, just go to the right area. If you're out looking for some cool kind of natural areas, there's some smaller, lesser known parks. London, I think has a lot of really cool gems that are historical in nature. A couple of my favorites are Temple Church. Temple Church is off between Fleet Street and the River Thames, so it's in that main central corridor. It was built by the Knights Templar in the 12th century. There's a rotunda, the great round rotunda in the old sepulchre in Jerusalem. They built their church based on that. So part of the church is I think it was the only, or one of the first rounded churches, rounded knaves in London, so you've got that really cool sort of Eastern effect and Knights Templar built there. This is ground zero for the Knights Templar, and it's in this little corridor; it's actually a little courtyard, cutest little courtyard it's off Fleet Street. Fleet Street is a major thoroughfare in London. You walk down this little side street kind of alleyway and then opens up into this really pleasant little square and then there's this church from the 12th century, eight- 900 year old church, just boom right in the middle of the hustle and bustle of the commercial district of London.

Arnold:

I'm sure London just grew around it. And that's why it's a little hidden.

Jack:

Exactly. That's what happens is you've got major sites like Westminster and St. Paul's and the Tower of London that the city is built around it, but there's a lot of breathing room because those are major monuments. Seriously, St Paul's and these other ones are much bigger than Temple Church, but the sort of courtyard that it sits in is not very big. I think there's a couple little benches, it's basically kind of commercial office space around it- bigger higher rise buildings. You've got this little courtyard with a couple little benches, and then you've got Temple Church. It's so cool.

Arnold:

So if you're a Knights Templar kind of follower, this is a must see for you.

Jack:

Yes, it really is. Even if you're just a hey, I want to do something that's not on the top 10 list of London. Again, Temple Church is a well-known church if you're into history, but I bet if you took a hundred American tourists that had been to London, maybe one out of a hundred would have been in Temple.

Arnold:

That's why we're talking about these hidden gems of London. So if I have a specific interest in art or music or literature, where are those hidden places that I would find valuable on a trip to London? And why would I find them valuable?

Jack:

London really does have just. An abundance of history and amazing pieces of art all over the city, both known, well-known, and hidden. There really is just a lot to see there's just music, art literature. There's an abundance there in London. The Banqueting House is a hidden gem for history, art and architecture, all in one. It's the first to be built in the neoclassical style in Britain. So that's point one. It's the only complete surviving building of Whitehall Palace, which was the principle Royal residence between 1530 and 1698 when it's destroyed by fire. So this was actually the palace that King Henry VIII would have lived in London.

Arnold:

Wow.

Jack:

So a lot of monarchs lived there for almost 200 years, about 170 years before it was destroyed by fire. So this is the only remaining building of that palace and there's beautiful reliefs painting the architecture, the neoclassical style. Again, it's right there in the central part of London. So it's easy to get to. One other note on this, this is where King Charles I was executed in 1649. So King Charles was the only King to be executed, this is a big deal executed by the people. This was the civil war of England when Oliver Cromwell came, so this is a big deal. This is the building, the room that he actually was executed in. So pretty cool.

Arnold:

And it's not going to appear on basic tours. Will it?

Jack:

No, the Banqueting House probably wouldn't. I would bet you there's definitely tour guides that maybe add it to their itinerary and may be on some hidden parts of London, but no. If you do go to London, and you're going to see the typical stuff. You're going to see Westminster, you're going to see the Tower of London, probably gonna do the London Eye which I think is a waste of time. That big Ferris wheel. I think it's a waste of time and money. If you want better views for cheaper and a better experience, go to the top top of St. Paul's cathedral. So you can climb the dome of St. Paul's Cathedral and you get unobstructed view. So in the London Eye you're in a confined glass box. In St. Paul's you go up to the top, climb some stairs, and then you're just 360 degree views of the top of the tower and you're in central London.

Arnold:

Now that's hidden information too.

Jack:

But it's hidden; this is what I love about it too. Now again, if you had a good tour guide or a good personal travel guide, it would tell you this. But a lot of people just go and they visit St Paul's and they get in and out. It's right there. You buy tickets at the bottom of the lobby and you just go up and once you're up there, it's a self-guided thing. I think last time I was, there was like eight pounds, eight, nine pounds. Compare that to 35 or 40 pounds. So you're talking, let's say 15 bucks versus like $50.

Arnold:

Wow.

Jack:

And there's no line; there's people up there with you, but it's not a huge wait. Whereas the London Eye you'll be waiting in line.

Arnold:

So if you want to get a good view of London you go to the top of St. Paul's.

Jack:

You go to the top of St. Paul's. That is the best view of London, best bang for your buck, best view and you're climbing up through the inner workings of the cathedral.

Arnold:

That's why people should be listening to this podcast. They're going to get all this hidden information.

Jack:

That's exactly right. Virtual Vacation with Guidester, that's what it's all about. Apsley House is another one of these, which is a stately home, right in the center of London where you can see just unbelievable amount of artwork from the neoclassical age. Another one worth mentioning, which isn't hidden, but it's worth mentioning because London is so Tower of London, Tower Bridge, St. Paul's ,Westminster, Buckingham Palace. A lot of people don't think of London for art; they think of Rome, Paris. The National Gallery is an art museum in Trafalgar Square. Trafalgar Square is one of the major squares in London. It houses a collection of over 2300 paintings dating from the mid 13th century to the 1900s. You can experience the story of European art masterpiece by masterpiece. Some of the most famous art in history from van Gogh, Monet. It's spectacular. It's right there in central London and many of these museums and galleries are actually free. London is well-known for its free attractions. I think the British museum is free, almost positive it is and a lot of these other galleries are free too, which is fantastic. So the other one I'll mention is the National Portrait Gallery. The National Portrait Gallery, which is in London housing a collection of portraits of historically important and famous British people. So going back, stretching centuries, you have these actual, authentic portraits of monarchs and aristocrats and politicians. The Portrait Gallery is not very well visited. I've been in there several times and I've never waited in line. People go there, but it's not one of the top five or 10 things to see in London on any normal itinerary.

Arnold:

What are some other ones Jack?

Jack:

We'll go through some other ones briefly cause there are a lot. So one which seems minor, but it's actually really cool it's called the Tulip Staircase. It's located in 17th century Queen's House in Greenwich. Greenwich is technically a separate city East of London. Greenwich is where we get Greenwich mean time. So this is where time, as we know, it was invented. So zero latitude is Greenwich, England. GMT Greenwich meantime, so we're on GMT; most Western countries are. There's a thing called Queen's House that has a sweeping Tulip Staircase, which was the first geometric self-supporting spiral stair in Britain. So it's really architecturally important. It's also beautiful. It's called the Tulip Staircase. It's a blue wrought iron railing with flowers in it thought to be tulips, which is where the staircase got its name. It was built for Queen Anne of Denmark, who was the queen to King James I or King James VI of Scotland, who was the first to unite the crowns. A lot of people think that the English were the ones that took over in Scotland and there was a lot of bloodshed and a lot of war for sure on both sides. That's true. But the first King of England and Scotland was actually Scottish. The offspring of Queen Mary, King James, who was the first King James of England, but he was King James VI of Scotland. He's the one that brought the crowns together in the 1600s. Then a century later, I think in 1707 was the official union of the crown. So we're getting off topic, but King James was really the one that brought the crowns together. Again, not English, Scottish. I love to tell Scots that because they feel independent; they feel a little bit imposed upon by the English. You got to remind them that we'll look there

Arnold:

About the heritage

Jack:

...and there were a lot of Scots, a lot of Scots today are actually proud British. Now a lot of Scots more and more are proud, Scottish. But the reality is it wasn't just this country overtaking another. The English and the Scottish really coexisted, especially their aristocratic level for centuries and centuries going back well before Bonnie Prince Charlie and the Culloden Field and all that stuff. Again, terrible atrocities did occur, I'm not taking away from any of that, but even going back to before that Edward I and William Wallace, there was a lot of collaboration at the higher level. Anyway, the Tulip Staircase, really cool piece of history and beautiful architecturally.

Arnold:

What are some things that would be surprising to you or I, or other people that would be going to London?

Jack:

There's actually quite a bit the first thing that comes to mind is a place called Little Venice. So you're thinking London, Venice, London doesn't have canals. It sure does.

Arnold:

Seriously.

Jack:

It sure does. No, so I've lived in...

Arnold:

Gondolas too?

Jack:

You don't have gondolas, but I guess maybe they could. You got some kayaks, certainly got the kayakers in there and some I wouldn't say swimmers, but yeah, you got some boats and they're not nearly as extensive as the canals in Venice. But there is a place in London called Little Venice. It's a tranquil neighborhood, not far from Paddington. Really pretty canals with unique narrow boats, not what you typically think of when you think of London. It's possible to actually book a narrow boat cruise, they'll take you all the way down at Camden Lock. So there's one I want to mention for anybody that just wants to look more into this, Jason's Trip .It's the original London canal tour and it's the boat that used to carry cargo on Britain's canal network. So the boat itself is a traditional boat over a hundred years old and now it's used for tours. I think it's about 45 minutes one way, but you can go and see this and walk around if you want, but if you really want to get that authentic experience, you get on Jason's Boat Tour. Another kind of cool thing, which I think is worth mentioning that's become more popular in London recently; secret bars it's really a growing trend. So these are like underground bars or bars behind restaurants or bars within department stores or things like this. The one that really comes to mind, it's right off Oxford Street, it's called the Luggage Room. It's like an old 1930s style speakeasy cocktail bar hidden away in the bottom of a Marriott Hotel. If you stay at the Marriott, I think you can actually enter through that but you don't know that. The real kind of front entrance is at the foot of this hotel, it looks like kind of a, not an alleyway, but like a corner, dark corner. You don't even know there's a door there and you approach it and you've got to knock on the door and they open the door and they're 1930s kind of apparel and you go through like a corridor and through another corridor, and then you step down and it's at the base level of the hotel. So there are some windows, but you don't know that's there when you walk past the hotel. You just think it's part of the hotel, but it's this little secret they call it the Luggage Room, but it's this little secret cocktail bar.

Arnold:

Very cool. Very cool. Jack, did these particular hidden tours cost more than regular tourist destinations?

Jack:

No, I'd say actually many of the hidden London gems are free or a small admission fee. So a small museum Temple Church, for example, that we mentioned is free to enter. Saint Dunstan in the East is free to just hang out and and go. Banqueting House I think has a small admission fee. A lot of these areas are just areas of London. You need to know about free areas, free attractions, cooler, more local parts. You simply have to know about them and how to get there. Areas like Bishop Gate in London, Camden Town. My favorite area, Southwark which is in the Southern part of London is a really cool area. So in addition to those attractions that we talked about, which were tucked away in the major areas, there's other more local areas that you can go to; Southwark and Bishop Gates. Southwark actually has another cool little piece it's called Borough Market and it's from the 19th century. It's a 150 year old original market where you can go and get stall food. The whole little area around there is super cool. So that area is actually cheaper, much cheaper than getting a pint or a meal in the central areas of London. So not only knowing what the attractions are in the major areas, but then going to these other areas that are really cool; like I said, Bishop Gates, Southwark Borough Markets

Arnold:

Because those aren't in London proper.

Jack:

So they are in London proper; this is good context is you've got greater London, which is made up of 32 boroughs plus the city of London which is its separate little entity. So the borough is like a little district, maybe like we call like in Soho in New York. So you've got these bouroughs and that's all greater London. So everything I'm describing is in greater London.

Arnold:

Okay.

Jack:

But then you've got what you might call the central corridor or just the tourist areas like Westminster, Piccadilly, Covet Garden, Lester Square, the city of London itself. These are where the major touristy areas are, but getting outside those areas is quite easy. Going to Camden Town, which is like North London, still in greater London, but it's not as nearly as crowded with tourists as Westminster. Piccadilly Circus is probably one of the most visited sort of squares in London famous with all the screens and that statue in the middle. It's a really cool area. Soho's near there too. And Soho actually used to be, I'm not going to use the word dodgy, but it used to be a little bit more, let's say local; artsy and maybe dodgy at midnight, but it's been gentrified in the last few years. Soho is a great area of London, but slowly these sort of more local artsy areas have been gentrified, but you can still go. Like I said, Camden Town is like that, Southard is a cool little area. So London is still was just ripe with the local and the and the hidden gems within the major tourist areas as well. One other spot that I'll mention that's I think very affordable is Sky Pod Bar which is a cafe by day cocktail bar by night offering some of the best views of the city from above. So you can hang out to have a little tea, coffee, light snacks and then, in the evening have a little cocktail. So it's not necessarily a hidden gem because it's well-known to Londoners. But it's a gem that has largely alluded tourists; a lot of tourists just don't go there. My first couple of trips to London, I didn't even know it existed. And it's a great way to see another perspective of the city of London without having to, again, do like the London Eye or something, super touristy.

Arnold:

Now we've talked about some things here on the podcast that are really related to adults, but if I'm taking the kids along and I want to go to some hidden gems in London are there those available, that children are allowed?

Jack:

Yes. London is a very kid friendly city; there's plenty of amenities. There's easy ways to get around; public transportation is phenomenal. The Tube, but if you have to take a cabbie, there's black cabbies everywhere. Getting around it's safe, especially during the day. There's probably some areas that I would avoid at dark, I wouldn't equate it to certain cities here that, might be more kid-friendly because London is one of the capital cities of the world. So this is going to draw all kinds of people at all kinds of times. But just like with any big city, I wouldn't let my kid run around at night in New York city either. So that's the only thing I'd see, treat it like a big city, but yes it's very, kid-friendly.

Arnold:

So the kids they'd obviously like maybe the Knights Templar place we talked about.

Jack:

Oh, there is a lot of museums and things that could bore kids, but there are a lot of interactive things. So like the British museum is an example; it's a museum that has a lot of artifacts from around the world, but they are doing a better job setting, setting up interactive things. Sometimes they go a little too far and it can be boring for the adults cause it's almost geared towards kids, but largely speaking they've done a good job at making it sort of family friendly. So then this is where you would hang out; Piccadilly Circus. That's very touristy area, but that's more of the family area.

Arnold:

Gotcha.

Jack:

You're going to have your shopping areas, you're going to have a lot of Ripley's Believe It or Not Wax Museum type of things, if you want to do games and whatever. So there's a lot more kid kind of things that might be interesting in those tourist areas, like Piccadilly Circus and Oxford Street.

Arnold:

Okay. What was the one hidden gem in London that surprised you the most?

Jack:

Good question. So for me personally, because I'm a history guy All Hallows is a church, I think it's the oldest church in London that really blew me away. Not a lot of people get to. But I'd say because of the whole encompassing area Southwark. We'd say South work is how is it would be spelled. Southwark Cathedral, it's certainly not hidden, but not a lot of tourists get there because this is South of the river Thames. This is outside of the major tourist areas, not in the city of London or Westminster. So depending on who's listening, it may or may not be considered a hidden gem, but it's definitely off the beaten path enough that it's not going to be in your normal repertoire, Southard Cathedral I think it's the oldest cathedral in London. It's like stepping back in time. It's not in the city of London, surrounded by skyscrapers it's off to its own little area and nearby is Borough Market, which is that old market from the 19th century. So it's this old market nearby, surrounded by some really old school pubs, like some real London pubs and the cathedral itself is unbelievably beautiful. It's a Gothic style cathedral; there's artifacts in there, a museum inside the cathedral an operating cathedral. You can attend mass if you want, but you can also do an evening song. They do these evening songs at around 5:00 PM and I walked in there for one it's actually so beautiful. It was a long day of sightseeing, but I fell asleep and I was holding up a pamphlet and how it gets just dead silent in between the hoow and the hoow, right in between the middle of that I dropped my pamphlet. Everybody could hear it. It was like this dong, and hit the corner of the little evening song booklet. And it just reverberated and it woke me up. I was in the front seat. So it was a funny, embarrassing moment, but the evening song in Southard Cathedral and then after that going and having a little pint near Borough Market for me, it was just a great London experience. I've been to London maybe 20 times now. I live just in Cardiff, East of, or West of London, rather about two and a half, three hours. So I was able to go for these little weekend trips, but every time I go to London after that evening and Borough Market, one, two punch I try to do that every time I go.

Arnold:

That's is really experiencing London.

Jack:

I think so. It depends what you're into, but that's the cool thing about London is everything, there's an old saying Arnold: if you get bored of London, you're bored of life. That's an old saying going back. I don't know how long, but I think that's quite true about London. If you get bored of London, you've gotten bored of life because it really is something, whether it's history or art or music. The live music scenes in London are fantastic, natural beauty- Hyde Park and St. James these other parks, Saint Dunstan in the East like we had mentioned. These kinds of little cool overgrown gardens and these old buildings. The nightlife scene, if that's your scene, good food. Actually, London, England doesn't have the best rap for its cuisine, but fantastic restaurants if you know where to look and reasonably priced, if you know really where to look so it has something for everyone

Arnold:

We've thrown back the covering on some of these hidden items here in London, and you really described a lot of things that I would really like to see when I go to London. Thank you for listening to this episode of Virtual Vacation with Guidester. If you enjoy this episode, please check out our website, Guidester.com/virtual-vacation. That's guidester.com/virtual-vacation. Virtual Vacation with Guidester is produced by Motif Media Group. For Jack Baumann and Virtual Vacation with Guidester I'm Arnold Stricker.

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